Sunday, 16 July 2017

South Norwood parkrun

South Norwood is a district of south east London and sits in the London Borough of Croydon. The area was originally part of the Great North Wood - a natural oak forest that was once measured to be 830 acres in size and stretched from Camberwell down to Croydon.

As South Norwood was developed, the local authority acquired a piece of land for use as a sewage farm [c.1862]. The London Clay subsoil meant that drainage was poor and the area remained largely flooded. However, the venture was fairly successful until its closure in 1967.

This same land had previously been the site of a moated house and would go on to be used as farmland and allotments. Around the time of the second world war it was used by the military as a training area and also housed a civil defence unit.


During the years from 1988 to 1999, the former sewage farm site was transformed into South Norwood Country Park. The country park covers an area of 125 acres and is home to wild flower meadows, wetland, a lake, childrens play area and a pitch and putt facility.

There is also a large mound which was formed from much of the building debris from the world war two raids on Croydon - this mound is a fab viewpoint and you can see for many miles around from the top.


On the 8th of July 2017, the country park became home to South Norwood parkrun, which is a free, 5km event that takes place on Saturday morning's at 9am.

I headed over to the venue for their second event. Free car parking is available in the adjacent Croydon Sports Arena which is home to Croydon FC and Croydon Harriers Athletics Club. It's worth leaving yourself plenty of time to get to the start line as it could take 10 minutes or so to reach it from the car park. The arena car park also has a good number of bicycle racks.


There are some local roads adjacent to the venue where it is possible to park, but the advice is to use the official car park - it's about the same distance to the start and it'll avoid getting on local residents' nerves. Upon arrival at the start line you will also notice that there is a car park here too...

... It is only small and from what I can see, the intention is to leave this car park for the use other park users. If parkrunners use it, it will only end up becoming a source of friction. So just park in the Croydon Sports Arena car park.


If I had travelled by public transport, I would have taken the mainline train to Elmers End or used the local tram network and headed towards either Arena or Harrington Road stops. As it happens, Arena tram stop is adjacent to the stadium car park so is perfectly placed especially if you need to use the toilets beforehand.

The official route from the car park or Arena tram station is to cut through the arena itself - The biggest plus points for doing this are; (a) it's a shorter route than following the roads, and (b) the toilets are inside the arena - just head towards the small, tiered seating stand (pictured above) and you'll find toilets located inside it - there are also communal showers in here (it's worth noting that I have no idea if it's ok for parkrunners to use them).


When I visited, there were arrows placed all through the arena to show the route to the meeting point / start area of the parkrun - these were quite useful as the country park itself seems to be quite hidden away. The walk to the start involves crossing the tram lines so be very careful here.

Once you reach the park's visitor centre (which has very restricted opening hours - not open during parkrun) and the playground, you'll hopefully find a gaggle of eager parkrunners and volunteers plotting their actions for the morning. For the record, you'll find another set of bicycle racks here.

The run briefing was held on the grass outside the visitor centre. With that done, the runners moved into position on the start line which is just a few metres along the path.


The course here is made up of two full clockwise laps (2.3km) followed by a further quarter lap (0.5km). Underfoot is mostly a gravelly, loose stone surface (89%), but there is also a tiny bit of tarmac (1%) and some grass/dirt/mud (10%). In summer (when I visited) road shoes were absolutely fine, but some runners might prefer to use trail shoes in the winter when it's likely to get quite splashy.

It's quite a difficult course to describe in detail because it essentially follows the meandering gravelly paths and there are not really any notable landmarks around the course to point out. The scenery is almost exclusively trees, hedges and meadows. In fact, the route actually goes three-quarters of the way around the lake, but unless you're looking for it, you probably won't even notice that it's there. There are, however, a couple of sections which should be covered...

There's a chicane at around the 1.5km / 4km point and if you hit at a good pace it feels amazing to run around. Then towards the end of each lap there is a slight incline to negotiate - it actually feels like running up a corkscrew as it curves to the right and tightens as you go up. As you'd expect, it feels harder second time around, but it is a fun and unique feature of the course.


At the top of the incline the courses passes the aforementioned mound. It's also worth mentioning that most of the paths the run uses are shared use, so watch out for cyclists on your way around. You'll also find plenty of dog walkers milling around.

The finish funnel is hidden around a corner about 500 metres after passing the start line. It's a good idea to take a look out for it on one of the earlier laps so you know exactly where to turn off of the main loop once you reach the end. When I visited, barcode scanning took place, as expected, next to the finish line.

The post-run social is listed as being at the Croydon Arena. I was going to pop in with a fellow tourist for a quick cuppa, but we couldn't find the exact location. The Croydon Council website says it's officially closed on Saturday and that certainly seemed to be the case as far as we could see, so we both headed our own respective ways back home. [I'll add some more info if it becomes available].


The official results were up online a few hours after the run and there had been 118 participants at event 2. I recorded the run with my Garmin and you can find the GPS data of the course online, on Strava; South Norwood parkrun event 2. Of course, you can also watch the #relive video above to see the course.

Link: The London parkrun venues

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Dulwich Midsummer Relays 2017

The Dulwich Midsummer Relay race takes place in Dulwich Park, London. It is hosted by Dulwich Runners and billed as an approx 1 mile relay. We pre-registered our team using an online form and paid the £12 entry fee on-the-night.

As a note on our team - two of us are with Dartford Harriers and one with Dartford Road Runners, so we used Dartford United as our team name for the evening.

dartford united / pre-race [photos: esther / 7t]

The race is a 3 x 1 lap of the main inner loop that runs through the park. Anyone that has visited Dulwich parkrun will be familiar with the route as it uses exactly the same path - the only difference being that you only have to run one lap rather than three.

The loop itself is around 80 metres longer than a mile, so if you run here don't get too disheartened if your time is a little slower than what you would expect over a perfect mile course.

By the way, the route is very simple to follow and there's no way of getting lost providing you stay on the loop and don't follow one of the exit spurs. Underfoot is 100% tarmac and it's flat - you might feel the slight sensation of a tiny upwards elevation change during the latter part of the lap, but that is all.

The start time was 7.30pm and after a team warm-up we were all ready to go. As far as organising our team running order was concerned, we stuck with our tried and tested formula of predicted slowest first through to predicted fastest last.

dartford united [photos: esther]

My recent 1 mile races [2017] had seen me run 5.57 at the Westminster Mile and 5.47 at the Swanley Relays, so I was hoping to continue the sub 6 minute streak. However that extra 80 or so metres made it impossible to achieve and I ended up with a 6.06 time for my leg.

There is, helpfully, a Strava segment set up on the loop which looks to be pretty spot-on a perfect mile, so by using that as a guide it looks like my 1 mile time would have been approx 5.44.

The official results were published the day after the event and our confirmed results were;

Richey: 6.46 (6.46)
Steven: 6.06 (12.52)
Adam: 5.36 (18.28)

Combined time: 18.28
Finishing position: 17th (out of 52)

I recorded the course with my Garmin and you can see the course data here: Dulwich Midsummer Relays 2017

It was a lovely evening for the race and we had a great time being hosted by the friendly folks from Dulwich Runners. We followed the race up with a visited to the Fox on the Hill wetherspoons pub for some well earned food and a drink. Good times.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Swanley Relays 2017

The Swanley Relay race (4 x 1 mile) is hosted by Swanley and District AC, usually on the first Wednesday of July, every year in Swanley Park (aka New Barn Park) in Swanley. I've run this race once before (2014) and subsequently, whilst injured, organised teams for another (2015) during my time at SLGR.

This time around, a few of us got together to create a team. However we were not all from the same running club (1 Dartford Road Runner and 3 Dartford Harriers), so we needed a team name to run under. I had spent some days trying to come up with a decent one, but it had eluded me until, a few hours before the race one of our team was seriously considering pulling out due to a sore hamstring.

After a bit of a discussion, he decided to proceed and that lead me to proposing the name 'Hurty Hammie and the Hoops' (Hoops being the nickname for Dartford Harriers). So after a bit of post-work rushing around we finally arrived at the venue and headed for the registration desk.

'hurly hommie and the hoops'

We paid out £10 entry fee and began to discuss which order we should run in - this discussion always comes up in relays and over the last few years, I have become a big fan of starting with the predicted slowest runner and getting progressively faster, finishing with the quickest. We all agreed that it was a sound plan and we went ahead with that method.

With our name recorded incorrectly on the official paperwork, for the evening we became 'Hurly Hommie and the Hoops' which sounds a bit like the name of a 1950s/60s band. We all actually ended up liking it despite the spelling errors. The race start time was scheduled for 7.15pm and at around that point the first set of runners from all 28 teams were despatched...

On lead guitar and vocals was 'Hurly Hommie' himself (richey), and while he held back a bit to protect that hamstring, still put in a respectable time of 06.52 (team position 23). He handed the imaginary baton over to the rhythm guitarist (me) for the second leg of the race.

putting in the effort with about 100 metres to go [photo: brian page]

I managed to pick off seven runners on my way around the course, which is mostly on grass and is generally flat-ish, but it does have a little incline and bumpy trail to deal with about half-way through. I went around in 05.47 and was happy to have achieved my goal of running under 6 minutes.

With the race half-way done, we were sitting in 16th position. I handed the virtual baton over to our funky bass player (adam). With a time of 05.21, he had managed overtake six runners and moved us up into 10th position.

Our grand finale was left in the hands of our man-on-the-sticks (jon) who smashed out an amazing drum solo and left the crowd mesmerised with his 04.56 effort. In the process, he had picked off another 3 runners and brought us home in 7th position overall.


The full results were online a few days later and our combined time was 22.56. I did of course record the GPS data of the course and you can view it on Strava: Swanley Relays 2017





Saturday, 1 July 2017

Billericay parkrun

Billericay is a town in Essex with a population of around 30,000 people. It was first recorded as Byllyrica in 1291, but the exact origin of the name is unknown. It has a historical link to the Peasant's Revolt due to The Battle of Billericay in which the King's soldiers defeated and killed 500 Essexmen.

The town was said to have been the meeting place of the Pilgrim Fathers shortly before their voyage to the new world in 1620 and many of the names around the town reflect this historic occasion. In 1655 another group of colonists named the town of Billerica, Massachusetts after their English hometown. The two towns are now twinned.

lake meadows park, billericay

As interesting as all that (and more) is, the focal point of my visit to Billericay was Lake Meadows Park which was opened in 1936. The park covers 40 acres of land and has over 30 species of trees. Its features include formal gardens, tennis courts, swimming pool, children's playground, various sports pitches, skate park, and a bowling green.

There is also a man-made lake and this was commissioned by the Spitty family who once owned the land, then called Hill House Farm. The family were apparently fans of shooting, and the lake was dug to attract wildfowl so that they could host 'elegant shooting parties'. The lake is currently home to a six foot long cat-fish called 'The Beast of Billericay'.

start and first few hundred metres

On 24 June 2017 the park became home to Billericay parkrun. We headed over to the venue for their second event and once arriving, parked in the Lake Meadows car park. The official course page directs attendees to park in the Radford Crescent car park which is just outside the park. Both are free-of-charge on Saturdays but charges do apply Monday to Friday.

A few hundred metres to the south of the park is Billericay train station and bus interchange station - it's only a five minute walk to the entrance of the park from here. I didn't spot any proper bicycle racks but there were plenty of fences that one could use to secure a bike.

first grassy section (up and down)

The toilets are adjacent to the car park, and just next to 'The Wizard and The Dragon' sculpture. The sculpture itself has in interesting story - in 2013 an old oak tree had died and was due to be removed for safety reasons, however the 'Friends of Lake Meadows Park' suggested and arranged for it to be recycled into a sculpture - you can read all about it here and see some before and after photos here.

The main meeting point for the run is on the large open grassed area near the Cafe in the Park, and the run itself takes place over four gently undulating, anti-clockwise laps of the park. Underfoot is roughly a 50/50 mix of tarmac paths and grass/dirt. I visited in the summer when the grass was fairly dry and road shoes were fine, but there is a possibility that it could get a little muddy in the winter. I suspect a pair of multi-terrain shoes would work well here during the winter months.

second grass section with low branch

At time of writing, the official course map does not show the start and finish points correctly (this is quite common). The actual start line for the run is tucked away on the entrance spur at the southernmost point of the course where the park can be accessed from Lake Avenue. With the first timers briefing and the main run briefing both already having been held over on the main grass area, as soon as all the day's participants were in place we were quickly sent on our way.

The lap itself is fairly straight forward, and it goes a little like this... You head off from the spur on the tarmac path, which is at the highest point of the course. It's not very noticeable but the elevation drops a little as the route passes the tennis courts. The course then bears right onto grass. The course heads ever-so-gently uphill through this part of the course and the most easterly point of the course brings you back to a high point.

path around the lake

After swooping down the grassy, and only really noticeable downhill section of the course (I saw one person slip here, so be careful), the runners rejoin the tarmac path for about 50 metres before crossing onto the grass that follows the northern perimeter of the park. This section has a slight hint of trail about it and comes with a warning sign to watch out for tree roots and low hanging branches (seriously, watch out for the branch!).

The route then rejoins the path and the participants head around the curved path that circumnavigates the western bank of the lake - watch out for the drop to the left onto the bank of the lake. Sadly, and despite looking, I didn't spot the beast. Whilst heading around the curve, flanked by the blue, iron fences eagle-eyed runners may spot the conservation area to the right, which helps sustain the park's wide variety of wildlife.

final part of the lap

The playground is passed next and the path leads directly into another slight incline - not terribly noticeable, but it does start to feel a little harder as the laps progress. Heading past the finish area and the Cafe in the Park, the incline becomes slightly more noticeable and once the runners pass the sensory garden (it smelled amazing) they emerge back where it all started just a short while earlier.

The full 5k is covered by completing just under four full laps, so upon reaching the cafe for the fourth time, the runners can swing a left onto the grass and follow the cones for about 100 metres until reaching the finish funnel. During my visit, barcode scanning took place right next to the finish line and it was then time to head off to the 'Cafe in the Park' (which was a little expensive and cash only, so come prepared) for some post-run refreshments and a chat about the morning's very enjoyable run around Billericay's beautifully landscaped and picturesque town park.

breaking off of the lap and into the finish stretch

With a relatively high number of laps comes the inevitable flurry of lapping, but if everyone pays attention there's no reason that this should be a problem. I've done a bit of maths and everyone running over 25-26 minutes is likely to be lapped. To give you an idea of what to expect, I ran 20.55 and I estimate that I lapped everyone slower than about 28 minutes meaning that I lapped around 100 people out of the 171 that took part. Whichever pace you run at you will either be lapped or lap someone else.

Back to the park itself, and since 2001, the park has been home to a bronze statue, named 'Child in the Park' and I was planning to take a look. However the statue was not there during my visit as it had recently been stolen. Fortunately, it was found (in a wheelbarrow) and will be reinstated once repairs have been made to both the statue and its plinth.

finish and post run

Another couple of notable points are that the park hosts the largest fireworks display in the whole of Essex, and it also hosts up to 5,000 people for other outdoor events such as music concerts. I imagine any events of this size could lead to the parkrun being cancelled so be sure to double check the Billericay parkrun webpage before travelling to ensure you don't have a wasted journey.

So with all the chatting and the selfies-with-the-wizard-and-the-dragon and the playing-in-the-playground done and dusted, it was time to carry on with the rest of our day. As we were about to leave, I had a notification that the results for event 2 had been published. So I had a quick gander at them before hitting the road. I had also recorded the GPS data from the run and you can view it on Strava if you would like to see the course in more detail.


As the 18th venue to start in the county, Billericay is another fine addition to the set of parkruns in Essex and well worth a visit. It's deceptively undulating, but still a pretty quick course. When I showed my brother the relive course video, he spotted that the shape of the course resembles Totoro with his hand out while he's waiting at the bus stop in the rain, and after watching the video, I have to agree!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Westminster Mile 2017

The Westminster Mile has become a bit of a family tradition and the 2017 event was fifth year of the event and the fourth that I had taken part in. As I had in the previous few years I entered the race via Sweatshop and ran in one of their waves.

The event takes place on the late May bank holiday weekend and uses the same set up as the London 10000 event which takes place on the Bank Holiday Monday. Last year (2016) I ran in both events, but for this year I had a bit of a dodgy ankle and decided to just stick with the 1 mile event.


I wasn't feeling particularly racy, so I set myself the goal of running an even pace and aimed to come in a smidgen under 6 minutes. If I was going for a full-on race I would have ditched the Sweatshop Running Community t-shirt that I was wearing and opted for a singlet instead. These days I find that during races even a short-sleeved tech t-shirt makes me overheat.

So I had registered myself, my wife and my daughter, and we arrived in good time to wander around the event village where my daughter had her face painted in the kids zone. There are always loads of activities going on in Green Park and worth spending some time checking it all out.


We had been put into Sweatshop Running Community's first wave which had a 12 noon start time. At about half eleven I started to warm up with a jog around Green Park and I then made my way to the start on The Mall.

As I was going for a sub-6 minute time, I headed up towards the front of the starting pen while my wife and daughter stayed closer to the back. At the 2016 event my daughter had set a personal best time of 12.11 which she wanted to beat this year.


At 12 o'clock on the dot, the air horn was sounded and we all headed of along The Mall with St. James' Park on our right hand side. I kept my pace relaxed but strong. The first 400 metres were a little congested as my sensible pace tied in with most other runners' 'run as fast as I can for 200 metres and then suffer the rest of the way around' pace.

By the time I reached the 400 metre mark, I had found some clear air and the timing clock showed 1.27 which was right about where I needed to be time-wise. Once past the 800 metre mark at 2.54 and turning onto Birdcage Walk there is a slight rise of elevation which slowed my pace a little.


With 400 metres to go the timing clock was on 4.27 and all that was left to do was maintain that pace and I successfully continued my sub-six minute streak with an official time of 5.57.

A few hundred metres down the road, my wife and daughter were making good progress and after a few minutes of loitering around the finish area, I spotted them heading towards me. The clock showing just over 12 minutes, but by the time the official chip times were confirmed it showed that my daughter had set a new mile personal best of 11.51.


With that all done, we had our timing chips removed, picked up our free lunch from Sweatshop, and collected our goodie bag and medal from the wonderful team of marshals that had made the day possible.

We didn't have much time to spare after the run as we had already arranged to head off to watch the Monaco Grand Prix with my brother (on the TV, we weren't actually jetting off to Monaco), so we shot straight off to do that. It had been another excellent morning at the Westminster Mile and I'm already looking forward to doing it all again next year.


Results page (with filters applied): Sweatshop Wave 1 Results

My Strava GPS file: Westminster Mile 2017




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